42 years ago, crime spree of ‘Casanova Killer’ ended here

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

Becky Stonecypher and the Rev. and Mrs. Clifford Brewton remember well the day that personified evil, and along with it the eyes of the nation, came to Crumbley Road in McDonough.

It was November 17, 1974 – 42 years ago Thursday – and the nation’s attention was drawn to a mass murderer who later became known in media coverage as the “Casanova Killer,” so called for striking good looks and a seductive personality.

Paul John Knowles Special photo

Paul John Knowles, who was born in Florida and lived in a number of states, became the chief suspect in a handful of murders and robberies as he was reported to have criss-crossed the nation. He was charged after his arrest for the murder of seven people in three states, but reportedly confessed to as many as 35 murders in more than a dozen states.

“It was a day never to be forgotten,” Brewton said about the day that the confessed serial killer crept up to several houses along Crumbley Road near Georgia Highway 155. “It was a weird, strange event. Since then I’ve really been thankful to God that nothing tragic happened in McDon-ough except (Knowles’) arrest that got him out of here. He was a killer. You don’t want to deal with a killer that comes to your door.”

The most-wanted murder suspect was known to have surfaced in Macon earlier that day on November 17, 1974, and police, acting on a tip, set up a roadblock to halt him at the corner of what is now U.S. 42 and Eagles Landing Parkway. Knowles drove his car directly into two police squad cars that blocked the road, crashed through them and smashed his car into a tree.

Knowles escaped the crashed car and, as he disappeared into the woods, took a shot by police to his ankle. He somehow made a four-mile trip through the woods to the Crumbley Road area, where he broke into two homes while their owners were away, stealing a rifle and food and failing to steal a vehicle.

Then Knowles stalked three other homes belonging to Brewton, Stonecyper and a new neighbor, Terry Clark.

Clark, a Vietnam War veteran, encountered Knowles in the woods just behind his house. He would have been killed instantly by Knowles had the firing pin of the killer’s stolen gun not malfunctioned.

Clark, who shies away from any media attention and is said to now live in the mountains, ran back into his house and retrieved his own gun, using it to order Knowles to cooperate with him. With no vehicle as a means of escape, Knowles reluctantly relented.

Clark, knowing that he had no home phone to call authorities, forced Knowles to march to his neighbors’ homes, where he planned to ask them to call police.

Brewton – then the pastor of Salem Baptist Church and now retired after 25 years of leading the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and Jonesboro (which is now The Rock Presbyterian Church on White Road in McDonough) – said his wife Rachael had heard a man shouting, “Hey! Hey!”

“We ran to the side door and saw two men headed toward our house. Then (our 12-year-old son) Danny said, ‘One of them has a gun!’ I recognized one of them as Knowles from a radio description. One glance is all we needed, and back into the house we hurried.”

“Danny handed me a huge knife from the kitchen and I told Rachael to get the police on the phone while I stood guard at the door leading to the living room. Meanwhile, Becky Stonecypher called to tell us of the manhunt and to request us to keep all the children inside the house. The next call was to the police. (Daughter) Rebekah handed me the phone with the Henry County police on the line and I reported that two men were at our door, one with a shotgun.”

Clark, frustrated in his attempt to gain attention at the Brewton house, slowly marched his detainee toward the Stonecypher residence next door, Brewton said. “Running to the window while her husband, Joe, loaded his shotgun, Becky recognized one of the men as Terry Clark, a new neighbor from across the street, and yelled from the window, ‘Get away from there, you’re scaring those people to death!’ Terry replied, ‘Call the Sheriff!’”

“Becky’s call (to authorities) provided the final location of the hunted ex-convict,” Brewton said, “and in minutes, county policemen Paul Robbins, Dick Barnes and Donald Gilmer arrived, being closely followed by hundreds of policemen, FBI agents and state troopers. Together they placed the subject of Georgia’s greatest manhunt in custody.”

Wherever he now lives, Terry Clark’s “citizen’s arrest” of Knowles makes him a local hero. “He was a very strong person to do what he did and hold that gun on that man,” Stonecypher said.

Brewton agrees. “When Terry proceeded with a face-to-face encounter with the accused murderer, that was the moment he became, in my opinion, the greatest hero I have ever known.”

In time, Knowles’ own attorney, Miami’s Sheldon Yavitz, called Knowles “the most heinous murderer in history” – this from the attorney who represented some of Miami’s most despicable drug smugglers, thieves and murderers and who worked to get Knowles paroled at the beginning of his killing spree, in May 1974.

Stonecypher – who ran a day care from her McDonough home for 42 years – said her front door, the one that Knowles had knocked on that day, has gotten little use in the more than four decades since. “We hardly ever open our front door. It’s locked. Just opening it makes me think about that day, and the look on his face. I didn’t open the door that day until police arrived. They were handcuffing him and he was looking right at me. He looked scary. He bled all over my porch. He was scratched up and his ankle was bleeding. I’ll never forget that look. So, we use the other doors; they’re just as convenient.”

“It brought me to the reality that life is precious,” Brewton said, acknowledging his family and friends’ near brush with horrifying death. “People that you know, like Becky Stonecypher who lived next door, stand together in a community and whatever happens, they try to help. God be praised, he puts that love in us.”

“It was a real panic day,” agreed Brewton’s wife Rachael, adding that Stonecypher’s children were playing with her children in their house that day. “We went into the protective mode. We needed to protect these children. God was good to us that day.”